Rodney Newsome played basketball for the University of Memphis from 1992-96.
The closest he came to a national championship was when the Tigers advanced to the Sweet Sixteen his junior season.
Today, however, Newsome is a fixture when it comes to appearing in national tournaments. Having been head coach of the Memphis War Eagles AAU team for the past six years, Newsome has assembled a program that has become a national standout on the amateur basketball circuit.
“Really, the key (to being successful) is just having a lot of dedicated parents,” Newsome told MemphiSport. “I dropped off a couple (of players) and added a couple.”
While Newsome occasionally witness skilled players move on and join other teams, he said that unlike many AAU coaches, he has never had to endure a “rebuilding situation.” Among the reasons is that Newsome has taken his recruiting craftiness beyond the Tennessee borders.
All the way to Georgia to be exact.
Currently the coach of what is now the War Eagles 13-and-under squad, Newsome’s 13-player roster includes two marquee players — Kyle Sturdivante and Charvez Hunter — who reside in Georgia. As Newsome tells it, oftentimes he and his Memphis area players schedule trips halfway to Georgia to meet up with Sturdivante and Hunter to conduct practices, a trend he said has helped established a camaraderie among his players.
Newsome’s roster also includes two players from Knoxville and one from Kentucky.
“They give us a different dimension that we didn’t have,” Newsome said of his Georgia athletes. “They’re athletic and can play multiple positions. You can put them anywhere on the floor. They’re just special, gifted athletes.”
Sturdivante and Hunter also have bought into Newsome’s system and track record in which he has evolved into one of the nation’s most successful AAU coaches in recent years. Sturdivante is in his third season with the War Eagles. Hunter is in his first year. While they are becoming acclimated to playing in the basketball-crazed establishment that is the Bluff City, both agree that playing for Newsome will provide them with some much-needed exposure as they prepare to make the transition to high school in the coming years.
“I’ve been knowing (Newsome) for a long time,” Hunter said. “I’ve been around these guys since the fourth grade and that’s special. I’m getting my band-handling skills down pat.”
Sturdivante said among the things he enjoys about his new team is Newsome’s father-figure approach he exhibits to his players.
“He’s lets us go at it (on the court) and teaches us to establish brotherhood as a team, a tightknit bond,” Sturdivante said. “This is a close team and we’re just trying to win the nationals.”
After a year in which the War Eagles complied a 65-3 record and reached the AAU’s version of the Final Four, many have labeled them as heavy favorites to capture their first national title since the team won back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010.
Among the reasons is that the nucleus of Newsome’s team is back after the War Eagles were eliminated in the national semifinals to Brooklyn Nets star Deron Williams’ 12-and-under team last year in Virginia. In addition, Newsome has had the same assistant coach since he took over the team, Memphian Derrick Adams.
“They’re just so hard to guard,” Newsome said of his current roster. “And when you’ve got good guard play, it’s the versatility of the whole team that makes it hard to stop us. Our bigs are mobile. They can run and jump and they’re already a dunking team.”
All of which should make this high-octane War Eagles team a fun bunch watch this summer.